Jeff Bray is the co-founder and festival director of the award-winning Cultivate Festival in Northumberland County. He’s also an instructor at Centennial College, where he teaches about food tourism, a former restauranteur, and a previous contributing writer to Watershed Magazine. We asked Jeff to give us his thoughts on a few of the unique Taste of the Trent-Severn products developed by businesses around Kawarthas Northumberland.
I am restaurant obsessed. I worked in the industry for 20 years doing everything from washing dishes to owning a business myself to teaching Restaurant Operations at Centennial College.
When I go out I have high expectations, but not unreasonable expectations. I expect the food to be of a quality related to the concept. I expect to feel some value in the experience, and I expect friendly and fairly prompt service. Not unreasonable, but extremely rare. The El (P) gives me these things.
It’s clear the owners Amanda and Greg are professionals—they care and they are there every time I go. They also seem to be surrounded by a loyal core crew that isn’t always in rotation. I know what to expect at The El (P), and for that I am grateful.
Amanda and Greg deSilva originally started The El down on the main street in Cobourg, almost immediately across the road from the architectural gem, Victoria Hall. The space is cozy, the energy is positive and, again, you know what to expect. As a previous restaurant owner, I was jealous of what they had there. It seemed manageable, personal and passionate. That’s why I was so surprised to hear they took over a lease on a huge property on George St. in Peterborough, during a pandemic, in a space that once housed local institutions Hot Belly Mama’s and Old Stone Brewing Company. This seemed crazy to me, but I underestimated them!
From the first steps inside The El (P), you know what you are getting into. Photo ops present themselves the whole way through, starting with a funky graffiti wall right inside the main doors. Inside the restaurant the space is airy, vibrant and filled with bright and beautiful artwork that reflects the style and energy of the staff. They carried on with the personal and passionate style that they established down in Cobourg.
The (P) by the way, is a play on words – an indicator of their Peterborough location and a nod to Greg, who is a DJ and can often be found behind the decks spinning records (LPs).
As I mentioned, they appreciate good food at The El (P) and, ultimately, I am here for my Taste of The Trent Severn Waterway, and it’s my lucky day because they have two items on that menu.
First, the Lock 21 Tuna Tataki, named after one of the “highest hydraulic dual boat lifts in the world.” Lock 21 is less than 2km away and a must see especially when the Waterway is alive in the peak summer months.
The Tuna Tataki features sesame crusted ahi-tuna, quick seared and served on top of a crispy wonton with smashed avocado, pickled ginger, nori dust and spicy mayo. The El (P) does fusion well and are quite proud of that! They love to travel, bring back ideas, and make them their own, and this is a great example. I love this dish. I want it in my life all the time. Delicate and fresh, creamy and crunchy—I will be back for more.
Next up, the Angry Bird. A classic at both the Peterborough and Cobourg locations, this sandwich was repurposed for the Taste of The Trent Severn Waterway. When asked what the connection was to the TSW, Amanda replied, “for all that is beautiful on the TSW, the reality is there are still some angry birds.” A little sense of humour goes a long way in my book! Plus, the sandwich is delicious. Fried chicken tossed in Sriracha and topped with pickled jalapeños, jalapeño jack cheese and creamy slaw. This might sound too spicy for some, but if you like heat you’re in for a great meal. I mean, this bird is angry, but this bird is also very enjoyable and a superstar on the whole menu.
I love the crunch from the fried chicken and the added heat from the pickled jalapeños. It’s the creamy slaw and brioche bun that makes it all manageable, striking a great balance against the heat. Again, a great spectrum of flavours and textures.
When I asked Amanda why Peterborough and why this location, there was no shortage of reasons. I shouldn’t have even asked about the location—it truly is perfect. Right in the heart of George St., The El (P) is only a few minute’s walk to seemingly everything, including Del Crary Park, The Trent Severn Waterway, dozens of amazing independent shops, and plenty of other excellent dining experiences. Amanda said that played a big role.
As residents of Port Hope, with a small restaurant in Cobourg, they could imagine themselves driving the 40 minutes up Highway 28 and bringing their small town charm to a city that has an appreciation for it.
No regrets! The El (P) is alive and well. Peterborough is embracing them, and they are embracing Peterborough. They love the community around them and how there is a lot of collaboration. When I was there, I overheard the crew was planning some sort of event featuring country artist Melissa Payne and PTBO Northern Originals, a monster of a local apparel company that embraces and celebrates all things Peterborough. It’s proof that it’s more than words when Amanda speaks about the community the way she does.
Amanda says she loves the fact that Peterborough is surrounded by nature. It’s something the average tourist may not realize if they drove in, especially from the south or west—Peterborough is very much an outdoor adventure city. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere, and boating and waterway recreation are huge pieces of not only the cultural fabric but also the tourism market. The El (P) is a direct beneficiary of this.
The same goes for Musicfest, “Canada’s longest running free admission summer concert series,” a quick walk down the road at Del Crary Park. MusicFest serves over 150,000 people every summer. I saw Tegan and Sara there a few years back and there must have been 15,000 people, an incredible free experience for my family and I. Naturally, there’s a lot of people looking for food at these concerts, both before and after. Can you imagine the impact this concert series has on local restaurants? Very cool. Again, The El (P) considers themselves pretty darn lucky to be doing their thing in the Peterborough core.
While the arts, culture and heritage scene is thriving, Amanda says not to forget about some of the independent shops. She mentions the fun loving treat mecca Couture Candy as well as Providence, a unique menswear, bar, cafe, barbershop social club. It sounds like a mouthful, but I checked it out and it is, in fact, super cool.
As a huge coffee snob, I am always on the lookout for a great experience. Right around the corner on Hunter St., I had a great americano at Kit Coffee, a charming little space filled with vintage furniture and fresh plants that clearly takes their coffee seriously. If you’re up for a slightly longer walk (under 10 minutes) and you’re in the area between May and October, I would definitely suggest the Silver Bean Cafe at Millennium Park, right on the Otonabee River. Incredibly peaceful and remarkably beautiful. There are not many locations like this in my experience. A real gem.
Downtown Peterborough is a tapestry of natural beauty, small business energy and a vibrant arts and culture scene. There seem to be endless interesting options within a few block’s radius. Amanda, Greg, and the whole The El (P) crew have weaved themselves in perfectly, and quickly established themselves as a must stop destination on your next Peterborough adventure.